DISCLAIMER: I do not own the real people, the state of Minnesota, or Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Author's Notes: I wanted to write about Phil Verchota and Minnesota, because I miss the Midwest and Verchota alternately reminds me of my brother and some of the guys on my college track team. I therefore have a fondness for Verchota, and I wanted to work with him, and to give the Midwest boys a shot.
I'm trying for a multi-chapter story! I know, madness. We'll see how it works out.
Thanks to meadow567, 1-800-epk-fano, Golden Gopher Hockey, Emador, and Adiemus1 for their reviews.
"Never trust someone who refuses to drink domestic beer, laugh at the Three Stooges, or crank Back in Black." --David Cantwell in a review of AC/DC's album
Liking simple things doesn't make you simple.
Plenty of people who know me might disagree, or agree, but say that an exception had been made in my case. I admit that I'm not the brightest guy out there, but I did earn a degree in college. It wasn't all playing hockey.
I used to think hockey was simple. Sure, there's all kinds of complex physical things--it's a hell of a lot harder than walking and chewing gum at the same time--but when you get down to it, all you're really trying to do is put your puck in the net and stop the other guy from doing the same thing. Simple.
That's what I thought until I met Herb Brooks. Nothing with him is ever simple. Sometimes I still think he got hit maybe one too many times; some of the things he says are just weird. And behind it all is some goal that normal people occasionally know, and some master plan that no one else can ever figure out. But I guess it works. We won the national championship, right?
See, I'm from Minnesota, which to a lot of people is practically Canada. Up here pretty much everyone knows how to skate, because when you combine lots of lakes with lots of cold, there's lots of skating to do. Not everyone plays hockey. Some people just skate around in circles, and the kids play tag and stuff. Little girls try to be figure skaters, and some of them take lessons and compete. I didn't pay attention to any of them, though. I never paid much attention to anyone on skates who didn't have either a stick or a whistle.
My mom still has all of my skates from over the years hanging on a wall in the attic. You can see them starting out little and then getting bigger as I grew up. It looks like some display at a ski lodge or something, like someone bought all different size skates and put them up there to look cute and sporty. If it weren't in the attic, and it weren't Minnesota, and it weren't my mom, that's how it would look. But it's just the way things are. Simple.
Knowing Herb, I shouldn't've been surprised about the way tryouts went. We checked in on Monday, and after that first day we knew the first cut. So there I was: one step closer to playing hockey on the Olympic team. It seemed kind of strange for so many guys to go to Colorado for just one day on the ice, but then the master magician himself descended and made a little speech and I remembered that we were dealing with a possible lunatic, and now I was going to be stuck with him for the foreseeable future, and hopefully until February.
It was nice seeing some of the guys again. I don't know why, but I'd been a little worried that I wouldn't know anyone once I got to the tryouts. But there was Buzz Schneider right when I walked in, and Mark Pavelich, and Rob McClanahan, and enough guys I knew to make me feel better. Not that I was nervous about the tryouts. It's just nice seeing a friendly face.
And wouldn't you know we'd need it. Four guys from Boston University had made it, and it sounded like one of them was still hung up on losing the '76 playoffs. I guess it's easy for me to say, being on the winning end and all. Mac said one of the Boston guys, that Eruzione kid, seemed all right, though, so there was probably nothing to worry about. Besides, it's hockey. Guys get hit and they get over it. Eventually. Simple.
One of those simple things I like is beer. Yeah, I know that there's complex technical stuff that goes into making it, but for me it's as uncomplicated as opening a bottle or going to the bar and asking for a Pabst Blue Ribbon.
"Do you actually like that stuff, or just that it's cheap?" Buzz asked me once. Truth be told, I actually do like it, and I can drink a lot of it, which is why I like that it's cheap. Besides, when you're far from home, you want something familiar, even if it is just cheap beer. So while the other guys tried to work on the tests Coach Patrick had handed out, I drank my Pabst and laughed. Like I said, I know Herb. The test was a surprise to a lot of the guys, but not me.
"So what do you think of this team?" John Harrington asked once he'd finished his test, or at least given up. He was a tall, goofy guy, and it was a little hard to take things he said seriously sometimes, but we had reached the point in the night when the inevitable had surfaced. "Think we've got a chance?"
"What, at winning?" Buzz asked. "The Olympics? Us?"
"Aw, come on. We're good hockey players. Don't sound so doubtful," Mike Ramsey said.
"Guys," Pav said, "we're going to the Olympics." Something in the way he said it made us all pause and consider this. Nobody corrected him that there were still six cuts to be made; we all looked around the table at each other and then everybody grinned.
"Whoever would've thought that a bunch of guys from Minnesota would be playing on the Olympic hockey team?" I said.
Harrington shook his head. "Not just Minnesota." We all turned and looked at the table where most of the guys from Boston were sitting. That is, until one of them stood up and stalked out of the bar.
"Is O'Callahan really still mad about the championship?" Rammer asked. He actually seemed upset by the idea.
"He doesn't strike me as a happy guy. I wouldn't be surprised if he were still upset," Buzz said. "But like Pav said, this is the Olympics. It's bigger than just a national championship. It's... it's... an international championship!"
We all laughed, and Harrington said, "Good job, Schneider."
"All I'm saying is, this is more important, and O'Callahan's an idiot if he lets the '76 playoffs get in the way of playing in the Olympics." Buzz crossed his arms, satisfied with his explanation. I rolled my eyes at him and addressed the table.
"Well, I don't know about you boys, but I'm not here to worry about the past or some guy who got his feelings hurt. I came to play hockey, plain and simple, and that's what I'm going to do."
I really should have known better.